Readers will recall me waxing lyrical last week on Leicestershire County Council's best-buddy loan of £5 million to poor old Northamptonshire County Council. Just seven days later comes the devastating Best Value Report into NCC and its works commissioned by Communities Minister Sayed Javid.
Those with strong stomachs can click here for all the gory details. For hardened horror fans I recommend the appendix case study about Olympus Care Services in which the Council manages to fall out with its own pretend business.
The report's conclusions are stark: "The problems faced by NCC are now so deep and ingrained that it is not possible to promote a recovery plan that could bring the council back to stability and safety in a reasonable timescale [4.16]." "To change the cultural and organisational ethos and to restore balance ... would take of the order of 5 years and require a substantial one-off cash injection. Effectively, it would be a reward for failure. ... A way forward with a clean sheet, leaving all the history behind, is required. [4.17]"
The report writers propose total abolition in 2020 and replacement with two unitary councils made up of the seven districts and boroughs. In the meantime, the Minister is urged to impose direct rule.
The 'history' is quite something. Scrutiny that is not allowed to scrutinise, audit that is not given full facts. A £21.1 million overspend already this financial year. Total financial incompetence. For example, consider the council's approach to financial management - "sloppy, lacking rigour and without challenge [3.66]."
It gets worse. When he heard about the Best Value inspection, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King, felt obliged to write to the inspectors - something that's almost unheard-of. What did he have to say? "...that NCC was one of the most difficult authorities the Ombudsman had engaged with both in the terms of time taken to respond in the course of investigations but also in the authority's approach to complaint handling, learning from mistakes and remedying injustice [3.87]."
And as for Leicestershire County Council... Everybody in local government must have known there was an investigation under way. Why didn't they wait for the outcome before dipping into our pockets? Northamptonshire is going to disappear in 2020 at the latest. Are their successor bodies going to be held responsible for their debts? No, why should they be? How could they be?
But, fear not, our £5 million has not been spent entirely in vain. There is a lesson here for our county councillors if they choose to read it. You know how LCC is always banging on about how little funding they get from the government? Well NCC tried that one too. The inspector's response?
"The whole point of a funding formula, however inadequate its basis, is to reflect different needs [3.8]."